On Becoming Hawk — Good Beer Hunting (2024)

On Becoming Hawk — Good Beer Hunting (1)

# On Becoming Hawk

Hi there - this is Michael Kiser, founder and publisher of Good Beer Hunting. I’m coming to you today with a difficult message—but a simple one.

Good Beer Hunting—after nearly 15 years, and at least 10 of that that I would consider serious years—is going on a platform-wide sabbatical. It’ll be indefinite. It might be permanent.

We have some ideas for what the future of Good Beer Hunting might look like—and soon I’ll be working on that vision with the counsel of my colleagues to see where it takes us. But the earliest vision is so drastically different than what GBH currently is, that the only way to get to the other side is to make a clean break. We’ve got to clear out the cache. We’ve got to quiet everything down for a bit and see what it all sounds like on the other side of that silence.

We’re shutting down our various content streams—the podcast, the website, social—ending a sort of always-on feed of content that’s been, for many of us writers, editors, and artists, our life’s work. And for most of us, our best work.

This thing that started as my personal blog would go on to be published in the annual Best American Food Writing, and win multiple Saveur blog awards before I had the courage to start publishing other voices beyond my own. It began as a way to pursue my curiosity for beer, combining the beauty I saw in it with the strategic implications of a new wave of culture and industry the world over. Good Beer Hunting came from a simple idea and simpler execution of a blog and grew into an international publication covering unique stories from countries all over.

With every major shift, from one editor in chief to another, it would morph into something that felt beyond any reasonable ambition. Eventually winning awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Imbibe Magazine, more than 100 awards from the North American Guild of Beer Writers, and most recently nominated for 6 James Beard Awards and winning 3 of them. If I consider what it would mean for us to achieve something beyond all that, I’d have to believe in a truly insane fantasy.

In the many years of running a beer publication that took us to the top echelon of all publications —literally taking podiums next to the New York Times, Washington Post, and The New Yorker—we’ve had to build and sustain an organization that simply doesn’t have a roadmap for survival in 2024’s media landscape. And to be clear, it never did.

From day one, I vowed to not try and make GBH profitable, because the media world already showed that to achieve profitability was to welcome a certain kind of death—and often a shameful one. Chasing advertisers and clicks with listicles and promotions—and as a result, never creating anything of real value to anyone but the advertisers. It was a fool's errand, and one we didn’t follow. By not hunting down ad revenue and declining offers over the years, Good Beer Hunting was able to remain a personal project in a way, even as our ambitions continually grew and results showed what an impact our stories and contributors made on the world of beer and beyond.

Instead of trying to manage our costs with advertising, we’ve been able to form longstanding partnerships with companies like Guinness, which has helped mitigate at least some of financial losses we took on every year. We also launched an experimental subscriber community called the Fervent Few, which took a meaningful chunk out of the debt and paid its dividends by connecting readers and fans from all over the world during the loneliest parts of the pandemic. But in reality, even these things combined didn’t cover the gaps as we continued growing.

The challenge of expanding GBH during its rapid growth phase came from my own pocket, which kept our editorial team independent and in control. But it also guided us to this moment. Paying for writers, designers, and editors was a budget pulled from my own strategic consultancy called Feel Goods Company, which was no small thing. Each year, the costs sometimes crested over $100,000 that weren’t covered by underwriting partners like Guinness or subscribers from the Fervent Few. And in the last couple years, costs went far beyond that. For years, I put other important things in my family’s life on hold to continue supporting GBH’s growth and ambitions.

As a father of three kids—and sometimes the only one working—that decision wasn’t made lightly. I exhausted myself making the consulting business uncommonly successful in order to keep both things afloat and growing. And as costly as that was in a financial sense, I’ve never regretted the decision to do it—and I never took a dime. In fact, there was one year when we more or less broke even, and with the small amount left over we gave the editorial team, including our freelancers, a surprise end-of-year bonus. More like a tip really.

Good Beer Hunting is the longest I’ve ever done anything, and it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done. And it existed entirely because I wanted it to.

But outside of anything I wanted it to become—my own pride and ambitions for GBH don’t really compare to the awe I feel when I look at what people like Austin Ray, Claire Bullen, and Bryan Roth helped it become. Our three successive Editors in Chief over those 10 years—each of whom shaped a new generation of Good Beer Hunting into an image that only they could have. Each of whom provided the shoulders for the next to stand on. And the countless writers and artists who were drawn to their leadership and the level of execution in our collective work—who gave us some of their own best work.

I’m thinking of Kyle Kastranec from Ohio, the first writer other than myself, who wrote a feature for GBH, setting a high bar. I’m thinking of Charleston’s own Jamaal Lemon who won a James Beard award for GBH alongside other winners and nominees like Stephanie Grant, Teresa McCullough, Chelsea Carrick, and Mark Dredge.

I’m thinking of people like Matthew Curtis, our first editor in the UK who turned the lights on in an entirely new country for us, and Evan Rail who kept turning on lights in dozens of countries since as our first International editor. Emma Janzen, and Ren Laforme who joined our editors team in the last iteration, rounding out some of the most ambitious and wide sweeping storytelling we’ve ever produced. Kate Bernot, who leveled up our news reporting to create an unmatched source of access to explain to readers why things matter in beer and beverage alcohol, which is now a growing stand-alone business unit in Sightlines.

What felt like a fluke at first, has become something I can confidently own. We produced industry-changing, internationally-recognized, and James Beard Award winning material…consistently.

I’m also often reminded of the smaller things we’ve done—like the blogs and short stories we wrote—about the politics and personal traumas of the way we eat, drink, and relate to each other in our families, in our communities, and against the injustices so many people face in an industry that’s ancient and profoundly immature at the same time. It’s an unlikely place for a beer publication to have a voice —but GBH has always built its scope around the perspectives of the individual souls who occupy space within it rather than narrowing down a profitable and popular slice of the beer conversation and reduced them to it.

Mark Spence unpacked his Midwestern anxieties around family and food, Lily Waite and Holly Regan opened a door to discuss non-binary and transgender issues, Jerard fa*gerberg and Mark LaFaro took big risks to focus us all on the dangers and costs of alcoholism, David Jesudason and many others captured our attention with stories of harassment, racism, labor abuse, and more that so many readers told us were critical and prescient and more importantly, helped. These stories helped people.

Over the years, we’ve had readers cry as they recounted what a story meant to them. We’ve had others scream and curse at us for the same. Some even went on the record as sources to ensure our reporting had the substance it needed to make an impact. Careers were started and ended because of the stories we wrote. Those stories had the same effect on ourselves. We’ve had writers put something heartbreaking or inspiring into the world only to have it wake something up in them and want to do more—take even bigger swings —and find a voice within them that carried them far beyond Good Beer Hunting.

And ultimately, that’s where my heart is today.

This week, I was struggling to find the words to describe what I was going to do with Good Beer Hunting—what comes next. I knew what the move was, and why, and I knew it was time—but I didn’t have the poetry for it—so I couldn’t quite feel it yet. 

On a long drive to rural Michigan to pick up my son from summer camp, I was listening to an episode of my favorite podcast, On Being. And I heard Azita Ardakani and Janine Benyus, two biomimicry specialists who have a way of describing the natural world with a stunning relevance. They said:

“Life is just so full of vitality and so much ON and being alive and then it’s not.”

“…What is the difference between something that’s alive and something that’s not? It seems that with the holding on to life —there’s also a feeling of once it’s gone, the letting go—like a body breaking down—but it doesn’t really. I mean, not for long. What happens is a tree falls and eventually becomes a log. Eventually grows a fungus and you think of it as breaking down—it is no longer a tree. But then a mouse comes along and it's the end of the fungus. And that material—thats’ where the reincarnation comes in —that fungus becomes mouse.

“And then a hawk comes along and the material—that material of that mouse becomes hawk. There’s this circulation—called metabolism. It’s catabolism—then it gets anabolized up into a new form. The grief is brief because transformation happens almost right away—it gets transformed.”

Now, GBH isn’t dying and it’s not wasting away. The truth is it’s still sort of thriving in its own manner of being. It’s a tree taller than I ever imagined. But success can kill an organization—I’ve seen it a hundred times in the companies I’ve worked for, companies I’ve consulted on—big and small. It’s all proportionate. How far away from the roots does that beautiful canopy get before it surprises itself with its own extended weight? How much life force does it expend trying to prop itself up at the expense of something new? 

There’s never an objectively right time—but there is a good time. A time not informed by reactionary fear and loathing - but by guts, love, and ambition for something new. 

So I’ve decided it’s time to take the tree down.

If I look back over the past few years I can see that Good Beer Hunting will be that fallen tree for many. It’ll be a source of nutrients for many a mouse that becomes hawk.

But the truth is, GBH has been the start of a kind of upward anabolism for some time now. Jamaal Lemon recently took a dream editors job at the Institute of Justice. Stephanie Grant has launched her own community project called The Share. Before that, Matthew Curtis started Pellicle Mag in the U.K. Lily Waite opened a brewery. So many GBH writers have gone on to write books, start podcasts, and create platforms of their own, it’s astounding. And what I’m describing right now isn’t something that started with GBH—indeed, GBH has been a recipient their upward anabolism from the lives they’ve lived—each bringing their own energy and nutrients here and nourished us with lifetimes full of curiosity, learning, and love for their craft.

The risks in starting something like Good Beer Hunting are myriad. Financial risk is everywhere—but I’ve happily and defiantly borne the brunt of it for many years. There’s personal risk—in media, everything you put out into the world has a way of coming back to you in unexpected, and often dangerous ways. And it does. There’s opportunity risk—if this thing fails, and if it takes a long time to fail, what opportunities might you have missed out on in the meantime? But to me, the biggest risk of all is it just not mattering. Not being relevant. Missing the mark.
Today, I feel satisfied that Good Beer Hunting matters.

I have so many people to thank—and so many feelings to share that are best relayed one-on-one. It’ll take me many months and years to pass along those sentiments to individuals who took that risk with me and succeeded.

I’m not going to the final word on all this.

My experience of GBH is singular—being the sole source of continuity over those 15 years. But so much of what’s defined GBH have been the perspectives and voices of those who’ve invested their talents in it over the years. So before our final sign-off this summer, you’ll hear reflections from leaders, contributors, partners and friends of Good Beer Hunting as well. This is part of the grieving and metabolizing process.

There are a few more episodes of the podcast to share still, and a few remaining stories we’ve been working on that you’ll see this month and maybe into August. If you want to stay up to date on future plans, sign up for the newsletter.

This episode—along with all podcast episodes over these many years—was edited by Jordan Stalling. And it was scored by my friend, soulmate, and composer, Andrew Thioboldeax, who himself has been along for the ride for over a decade.

Aim true, pour liberal folks—have a great rest of the year.

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On Becoming Hawk — Good Beer Hunting (2024)

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